What instructors should know about how students interpret symbols in physics
Given by: Dr. Eugene Torigoe, Department of Physics
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Friday, April 18, 2008
Manning Hall room 201
In studies involving nearly 1000 students we have found that numeric versions of certain
questions can have an average scores that are as high as 50% greater than than the
score on equivalent symbolic versions.
Analysis of students’ written work as well as student interviews has revealed that
the explanation for a large portion of the effect is related to confusion about the
meaning of symbols. Common confusions found in the symbolic version were rarely observed
for the numeric version of the same question.
I will describe how the structure of numeric solutions aids students in correctly
answering physics questions. I will also discuss the ways in which symbolic questions
impose greater cognitive demands on students than do numeric questions.